A surety bond is a contract among at least three parties:
- The obligee - the party who is the recipient of an obligation, e.g., the client building an office building
- The principal - the primary party who will be performing the contractual obligation, e.g., the contractor building the office building
- The surety - who assures the obligee that the principal can perform the task
European surety bonds are issued by banks and are called "Bank Guarantees" in English and "Caution" in French. They pay out cash to the limit of guarantee in the event of the default of the Principal to uphold his obligations to the Obligee, without reference by the Obligee to the Principal and against the Obligee's sole verified statement of claim to the bank.
Through a surety bond, the surety agrees to uphold — for the benefit of the obligee — the contractual promises (obligations) made by the principal if the principal fails to uphold its promises to the obligee. The contract is formed so as to induce the obligee to contract with the principal, i.e., to demonstrate the credibility of the principal and guarantee performance and completion per the terms of the agreement.
The principal will pay a premium (usually annually) in exchange for the bonding company's financial strength to extend surety credit. In the event of a claim, the surety will investigate it. If it turns out to be a valid claim, the surety will pay it and then turn to the principal for reimbursement of the amount paid on the claim and any legal fees incurred.
If the principal defaults and the surety turns out to be insolvent, the purpose of the bond is rendered nugatory. Thus, the surety on a bond is usually an insurance company whose solvency is verified by private audit, governmental regulation, or both.
A key term in nearly every surety bond is the penal sum. This is a specified amount of money which is the maximum amount that the surety will be required to pay in the event of the principal's default. This allows the surety to assess the risk involved in giving the bond; the premium charged is determined accordingly.
Surety bonds are also used in other situations, for example, to secure the proper performance of fiduciary duties by persons in positions of private or public trust.
Annual US surety bond premiums are approximately $3.5 billion. State insurance commissioners are responsible for regulating corporate surety activities within their jurisdictions. The commissioners also license and regulate brokers or agents who sell the bonds.
Individual Surety Bonds are the original form of suretyship. The earliest known record of a contract of suretyship is a Mesopotamian tablet written around 2750 BC. There is evidence of Individual Surety Bonds in the Code of Hammurabi and in Babylon, Persia, Assyria, Rome, Carthage, the ancient Hebrews and later England.
The Code of Hammurabi, written around 1790 BC, was the first time suretyship was addressed in a written legal code. It wasn't until 1840 that the first Corporate Surety was organized, The Guarantee Society of London.
In 1865, the Fidelity Insurance Company became the first US Corporate Surety company, but the venture soon failed.
Contract Surety Bonds
Contract bonds, used heavily in the construction industry, are a guarantee from a Surety to a project's owner (Obligee) that a general contractor (Principal) will adhere to the provisions of a contract.
Included in this category are: bid bonds (guarantee that a contractor will enter into a contract if awarded the bid), performance bonds (guarantee that a contractor will perform the work as specified by the contract), payment bonds (guarantee that a contractor will pay for services and materials), and maintenance bonds (guarantee that a contractor will provide facility repair and upkeep for a specified period of time). There are also miscellaneous contract bonds that do not fall within the categories above, the most common of which are subdivision and supply bonds.
Commercial Surety Bonds
Commercial bonds represent the broad range of bond types that do not fit the classification of contract. They are generally divided into four sub-types: license and permit, court, public official, and miscellaneous.
License and Permit Bonds
License and permit bonds are required by certain federal, state, or municipal governments as prerequisites to receiving a license or permit to engage in certain business activities. These bonds function as a guarantee from a Surety to a government and its constituents (Obligee) that a company (Principal) will comply with an underlying statute, state law, municipal ordinance, or regulation.
Specific examples include:
- Contractor’s license bonds, which assure that a contractor (such as a plumber, electrician, or general contractor) complies with local laws relating to his field.
- Customs bonds, including importer entry bonds, which assure compliance with all relevant laws, as well as payment of import duties and taxes.
- Tax bonds, which assure that a business owner will comply with laws relating to the remittance of sales or other taxes.
- Reclamation and environmental protection bonds
- Broker’s bonds, including Insurance, Mortgage, and Title Agency bonds
- ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) bonds
- Motor vehicle dealer bonds
- Money transmitter bonds
- Health spa bonds, which assure that a health spa will comply with local laws relating to their field, as well as refund dues for any prepaid services in the event the spa closes.
Source: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surety_bond